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Expert Guide For Students With Disabilities To Succeed In College

Our resource-packed guide with everything that students with disabilities need to know for college

College can be a stressful time for any student, and having a disability can add even further layers of complexity. From navigating accommodation rules, to knowing what school-based benefits are available to you, to understanding your rights under federal and state regulations, there are numerous challenges to overcome and bodies of information to master. In this detailed guide, we provide expert tips and analysis, as well as the best tools and resources for students with disabilities to succeed in college.

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Resource Guide Overview

We’ve included jump-to links below to help you quickly navigate this detailed resource guide.

Keep reading for more detail on resources for students with disabilities.

Tips For Preparing For Entrance Exams

Before we get into our content-packed list of resources and tips for succeeding in college based on specific disabilities, one thing that we think warrants a quick discussion is entrance exams (hey, we are a test prep company after all 😊). And this is an important topic, because entrance exams are a gatekeeping item to even getting into college. So it is important to note that whether students with disabilities are preparing for the SAT, GRE or GMAT, the same rules around special accommodations that apply to college exams apply to entrance exams.

For example, if you’re preparing for the SAT, the primary admissions test for undergrad along with the ACT, you can get a special accommodation that allows you more time and the ability to take the test alone, unbothered by other test takers. In addition, if you’re studying for the GRE or preparing for the GMAT, two of the bigger graduate school entrance exams, you get special accommodations as well. The GRE and the GMAT are a little different than the SAT though in terms of test taking format, so these accommodations will allow you special treatment at a test center as you take the exam on the computer. This again involves more time and special test taking equipment as necessary.

Anyway, now that we’ve covered our bookkeeping items around test prep and entrance exams, let’s get to our resource-packed guide.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)/Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are neurobehavioral disorders that most often occur in children. Symptoms of ADHD/ADD include trouble concentrating, paying attention, staying organized and remembering details. According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), about 6.1 million (9.4%) of all children in the United States ages 2-17 have been diagnosed with either ADHD/ADD. Although hard to quantify, it has been estimated by self-reported symptoms and diagnostic samples of students at individual campuses that between 2 and 8% of the approximately 2,500,000 undergraduate students in the United States suffer from ADHD/ADD.

Trustworthy Sources To Learn More About ADHD/ADD

The National Resource Center on ADHD, a program of Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), provides science-based information on ADHD and related disorders with fact sheets and detailed graphics on specialized ADHD topics.

ADHD&You provides valuable guides on ADHD tools and resources to help manage ADHD through the college years and different life stages.

TotallyADD is devoted to serving adults with ADHD/ADD through education, humor and social interaction.

Psychology Today provides numerous tips and recommendations for getting academic adjustments and accommodations to level the playing field in college.

WebMD provides a list of the top 10 signs that an adult may have ADHD/ADD.

Tools/Resources To Help Students With ADHD/ADD

Classmate Reader is a portable reader that offers students the ability to listen to their textbooks for students who prefer to listen rather than read.

CogniFit Brain Fitness is an app that helps students boost academic performance by assisting in the areas of memory, concentration, and organization.

Aurora Suite, Co:Writer SOLO, SpeakQ, and iWordQ are a few advanced word prediction software providers, eliminating the need to type every word for students who have difficulty typing long sentences or phrases.

Livescribe+ Pen functions as a standard ball point pen, but bridges audio and script by using Bluetooth technology to send everything the student writes to any of your devices.

Best Tips For Succeeding In College With ADHD/ADD

Starting the day on time is a key for any student’s success at college, especially a student with ADHD/ADD. There are three main factors that contribute to being late in the morning: getting up late, getting sidetracked, and being disorganized. If any of these are a problem, try: 1) setting two alarms to go off in sequence; 2) stay focused, make it a rule that activity has to wait until later in the day; and, 3) create a central spot by the door which you always check before you leave and put everything you’ll need the next day in that spot the night before.

Study smarter, not harder. Some examples include: highlight text with different colored pens, record notes as voice memos and listen to them as you walk across campus, use mnemonics to create funny ways to remember facts, use audio versions of books, and get a study buddy.
Schedule your study time. A good rule of thumb for college students is two hours of study time per week for every unit of course credit (3 unit course = 6 study hours/week). Treat college as a job – for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, you’re working on school.

Stick to your plan. This can prove difficult for students with ADHD/ADD, but some methods that might help you succeed include rewarding yourself upon completion of a project; if you’re competitive then pick someone in class who you want to out-achieve; or if you’re someone who responds to social pressure then join a study group so you’ll feel pressured not to let them down.

Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication, and by restrictive and repetitive behavior. Over 200,000 cases of autism are diagnosed annually. The CDC currently estimates that 1 in 68 children in the U.S. have autism, with prevalence much higher in boys than in girls. Although the body of literature is nascent regarding individuals with ASD in postsecondary education, it has been estimated that approximately only 34% of individuals with ASD attempt college within 6 years of graduating high school. Once in college, while most students with ASD have been successful in their postsecondary education, all face daunting social, emotional, independent living, self-advocacy and communication challenges.

Trustworthy Sources To Learn More About Autism

Autismspeaks.org is one of the leading autism science and advocacy organizations. Autism Speaks provides a comprehensive resource guide for all states, a list of apps that parents and students might find useful, and a comprehensive list of colleges, scholarships and organizations devoted to helping students with ASD achieve success.

Autism-society.org is another helpful site that includes resources for individuals with ASD and their family members.

Autism.com is the website for the Autism Research Institute focusing on the causes of ASD, as well as developing safe and effective treatments for those currently affected by the disorder.

diability guide

Autism Now is a national autism resource and information center for individuals with ASD and other developmental disabilities, providing materials on autism in the workplace, classroom and the community.

Tools/Resources To Help Students With Autism

Audio Notetaker is an audio based software that allows students to record lectures directly and download them to a variety of devices.

Routine Factory is a scheduling app based around pictures, rather than words, for students who best learn visually.

Google Calendar is free, straightforward, and is a great resource for students to plan and track their daily responsibilities.

Dragon Diction technology allows students to dictate their thoughts or notes rather than typing them out.

Time Timer is a visual timer and clock that helps students with ASD see time literally and avoid abstract clock hands.

BIGtrack Trackball requires less fine motor skills for students who find it hard to use a standard computer mouse.

Best Tips For Succeeding In College With Autism

Complete your general education credits at a local community college before transferring to a university. This will not only save you money, but it will also help you be more prepared for college life and not be overwhelmed by a large university.

Before attending classes become familiar with the college campus and acquainted with the professors. For a young adult with ASD anxiety issues a large university can be intimidating. Have your parents or counselor travel with you to the orientation college weekend to meet the professors and other students, and help set-up your room, class schedule, find your classes, and connect with the Student Resource Center.

If you live on campus choose a dorm that is an environment you feel comfortable to study and live in. If you have a hard time with loud music and students who stay up all night, then seek out an academic dorm with no loud noise, no pranks and great proofreaders and study partners.

Take advantage of every available resource. Often students with ASD receive special computers, unlimited testing time and other accommodations.
Relax and enjoy the journey. College years can be some of the best for those with ASD. Unlike high school, you can choose classes of interest to you, and more easily find others who share your special interests and hobbies.

Cognitive Disabilities

Cognitive Disability is a nebulous term describing a person who has greater difficulty with mental tasks than the average person. Most cognitive disabilities are rooted in biology or physiology, most notably being traumatic brain injuries and genetic disorders. According to the CDC, more than 16 million people in the U.S. are living with cognitive impairment, including Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Auditory Processing Deficit, Visual Processing Deficit and ADHD/ADD. The most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NECS) indicate that of self-reporting undergraduate students, 11% – or over 200,000 – college students report having some type of a learning disability.

Trustworthy Sources To Learn More About Cognitive Disabilities

The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) promotes education and awareness of the spectrum of intellectual and developmental disabilities through initiatives, policy development and research.

The Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities is based at the University of Colorado and works to develop ways of incorporating scientific and technological advances into solutions for those with cognitive disabilities.

Learning Disabilities Association of America is a national association dedicated to providing support, advocacy, legislative policy initiatives and educational resources to those with learning disabilities.

The Arc is an advocacy organization that fights for the rights of both adults and children experiencing intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.

National Center for Learning Disabilities works to improve the lives of children and adults with learning and attention issues by empowering parents, young adults, schools and advocating for equal rights and opportunities.

Tools/Resources To Help Students With Cognitive Disabilities

Talking Word Processors/Speech-to-text technology is especially helpful for students with dyslexia or a physical impairment.

Digital Recorders help students who struggle with focus and attention to record lectures or classroom instruction and listen to it later in a space where they can concentrate.

Big Launcher on Google Play simplifies the user interface on your smart phone or tablet with enlarged easy-to-read text and icons.

Ideament is ideal for brainstorming and organizing concepts as it lets you convert your charts and diagrams to text outlines.

Ghotit Real Writer is an app for those with dyslexia and dysgraphia which is designed to proofread and spell-check your writing using advanced grammar and phonetics capabilities.

Touchscreen Monitors are perfect for students who prefer to use their fingers or a stylus rather than a mouse or track pad.

Best Tips For Succeeding In College With Cognitive Disabilities

When starting your college career, plan a reduced workload. A full load of courses can make the transition to college especially challenging. For many students with a learning disability it might be beneficial to take fewer classes at a time and complete their college coursework over an extended period of time.

Choose professors with accessible and engaging classrooms. Inquire at your college’s Resource Center for instructors who are flexible and open, use a variety of teaching methods, and offer many different ways for students to show what they know. Instructors who have had training in universal design for learning (UDL) principles may be an especially good choice.

college disability

Advocate for reasonable accommodations. Postsecondary education facilities that receive federal funding are required to provide students with disabilities accommodations such as extra time in test taking, a sign language interpreter, priority registration, recordings of class lectures, permitted use of a calculator, and audiobooks, among many other resources.

Seek out support services. Many fee based support services, such as College Living Experience, partner with universities, community colleges and technical schools to provide students with wrap-around supports, including academics, social skills, independent living and career development.

Deafness And Hearing Impairments

Hearing impairment, deafness, or hearing loss refers to the total or partial inability to hear sounds. Symptoms may be mild, moderate, severe, or profound. An individual with a mild hearing impairment may have problems understanding speech, especially if there is a lot of noise around, while those with moderate deafness may need a hearing aid. Some people who are severely deaf often rely on lip-reading to communicate with others. Individuals who are profoundly deaf can hear nothing at all and can find themselves totally reliant on lip-reading or sign language. In the Unites States, around 15 percent of people over the age of 18 years report some level of hearing loss.

Trustworthy Sources To Learn More About Hearing Impairments

American Society for Deaf Children is a national organization of families and professionals that helps create opportunities for children and young adults who are deaf and hard of hearing to gain full communication access, particularly through the use of sign language.

Hearing Loss Association of America is an advocacy and resource center providing support and programs for hearing impaired people of all ages.

Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing is an international nonprofit membership organization, support network, and resource center on pediatric hearing loss and spoken language approaches and related issues.

Hands & Voices is a nonprofit, parent driven organization that provides support to families with children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Tools/Resources To Help Students With Hearing Impairments

Digitized Speech AAC Devices. Smartphone applications and communication boards can produce digitized speech when the user either types a message or presses on images and words.

Inductive Loop Technology. Many universities have adopted wide area loop systems to transmit through electromagnetic waves a professor’s lecture directly to a student’s hearing aid.

Text-To-Speech (TTS) Reader is an app available through Google Play that instantly reads out loud any text with natural sounding voices.

Dragon Diction App can be used to turn speech into text, as well as text into speech.

Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is used to convert speech to text and can be used on individual laptops or smartphones.

Best Tips For Succeeding In College With Hearing Impairments

Get educated and know your rights. Having a hearing loss or being deaf qualifies you to receive very specific learning resources under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Learn what you are entitled to, and find out exactly what programs and services your college offers.

Make a plan and communicate with your college and professors. Register with the appropriate campus offices in a timely manner and request the services you’ll need ahead of time. Send your professors an introductory email briefly describing yourself asking what you need to be successful in their classroom – for example a seat in the front row.

Ask for what you need and don’t be afraid to speak up if your needs are not being met. Advocating for yourself in a firm, respectful manner improves your chances for success in and out of the classroom.

Join a campus support group. Campus support groups for hard-of-hearing students can be a great place to vent frustrations, share strategies for improvement, and learn about resources on campus.

Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words (decoding). Also called reading disability, dyslexia affects areas of the brain that process language. Dyslexia is the most common of the language based learning disabilities, and 1 in 5 students – about 15-20% – of the student college population suffers from the reading skill disability.

Trustworthy Sources To Learn More About Dyslexia

International Dyslexia Association is the premier site for everything about dyslexia, professional development opportunities, conferences and finding a directory of trained professionals to assist children and young adults with dyslexia.

The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity is an extension of Professor Dr. Sally Shaywitz’s ground breaking work in the field, and has numerous fact sheets and guides for students with dyslexia who are planning on attending college, including laws, statistics and practical resources.

Dyslexia Training Institute (DTI) publishes helpful blogs posts for educators and families, and offers a variety of professional development opportunities in online formats.

Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education is supported by the U.S. Department of Education and takes a close look at the rights and responsibilities of students with learning disabilities.

The Mathematical Brain is a website by Brian Butterworth, a professor with dyscalculia, who provides tips, tools, and resources for those with the learning disability.

Tools/Resources To Help Students With Dyslexia

Learning Ally is a fantastic resource for audiobooks. This app houses hundreds of books for both children and young adults who struggle with reading and reading speed.

Natural Reader, Ivona and Work Talk are text-to-speech tools that convert text to synthesized voice programs.

Glasses and colored overlays are tools that often help individuals with dyslexia. The science behind the filters is that they alter the wavelengths that cause visual processing impairments in the brain. Research has suggested that 20% of dyslexics can benefit from colored lenses or overlays.

Livescribe Smartpen and SoundNote offer a solution to writing and come with a built-in computer that records what is heard while you are writing. Students can take notes while the pen will record a professor’s lecture.

Keeble Keyboard is an onscreen keyboard equipped with accurate word prediction software that increases in its abilities over time, lessening the instances of spelling errors and helping to make typing faster and easier.

MathTalk helps students perform math functions without a keyboard or mouse.

Best Tips For Succeeding In College With Dyslexia

Use time wisely. Keep an agenda/planner and check it off as you finish to visualize your progress. Set small goals and reward yourself when you complete them.
Remove all distractions including internet, television and cell phone from your study area.

Play classical or instrumental music in the background to relax.

Use a phonetic dictionary to sound out words.

Turn your written notes into pictures or diagrams, or read them aloud, to make them easier to remember.

Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities or learning disorders are umbrella terms for a wide variety of learning problems. A learning disability is not a problem with intelligence or motivation, in fact, most individuals with a learning disability are just as smart as everyone else. They just see, hear and understand things differently.

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The most common types of learning disabilities involve problems with reading, writing, math, reasoning, listening, and speaking. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 200,000 students entering college have some type of learning disability, but only 17% of them take advantage of learning assistance resources at their college or university.

Trustworthy Sources To Learn More About Learning Disabilities

The Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) serves the mission of helping students with learning disabilities achieve a higher education, and offers coaching, mentoring and self-advocacy skills for students with a variety of learning disabilities.

American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) maintains a series of webinars and YouTube videos that focus on helping students with disabilities transition to either college or a career.

Going to College is a website that specifically helps students with learning disabilities prepare for the transition from high school to college life.

The Viscardi Center (VC) focuses on a lifetime worth of programs and services for the disabled, and have a number of resources specific to college-aged students.

U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division details the Americans with Disabilities Act providing a comprehensive description of Title II and how it serves and supports individuals with disabilities.

Tools/Resources To Help Students With Learning Disabilities

Kurzweil 3000 is a text-to-speech assistive tool designed to help students who have difficulty reading standard print.

ModMath is a free app for the iPad targeted at helping students with dyslexia and dysgraphia do math.

Stop, Breathe & Think is a fantastic meditation app for students with anxiety and stress disorders, which encourages users to think about how they are feeling, while also providing short mindfulness and meditation exercises tailored to their mood.

Voice Dream Reader is designed for individuals with attention disorders which allows them to highlight text, which will then be read back to them. For students who learn better aurally, Voice Dream Reader is a must have tool.

Best Tips For Succeeding In College With Learning Disabilities

Seek out help when you need it. Support from others is an essential key to college success. Find a learning coach or tutor to help you pick classes and create a study schedule.

Create effective study routines. Find a study place that is distraction-free such as the library stacks or alone in your dorm room. The spot does not necessarily have to be quiet as some people with disabilities find that music helps screen out distractions.

Be an active learner. Choose classes that are interesting to you to make learning meaningful and fun.

Organize your study space. Clutter at your desk makes it difficult to work for many people with learning disabilities.

Learn how you learn. It sounds obvious, but figuring out how you learn best can help you understand, absorb and retain material more effectively. Figure out if you are a visual, auditory or hands-on-learner, then study in a way that matches the strengths of your learning style.

Related: College Student Mental Health Guide

Physical Disabilities

Physical disability is the long-term loss or impairment of part of a person’s body function, resulting in a limitation of physical functioning, mobility, dexterity or stamina. Due to the functional loss a person will experience the inability to perform normal movements of the body, such as walking and mobility, sitting and standing, use of hands and arms, and muscle control. The two major categories of physical disabilities are: 1) musculo skeletal disability; and, 2) neuro musculo disability. The National Center for Education Statistics have reported that 19% of college undergraduates have reported having some form of a physical disability.

Trustworthy Sources To Learn More About Physical Disabilities

American Association on Health and Disability (AAHD) offers a comprehensive resource center and a list of publications designed to educate and raise awareness of individuals with physical disabilities.

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund is an organization with a mission of providing a national civil rights law and policy center focused on furthering the interests of those living with physical disabilities.

Disabled Sports USA offers national sports rehabilitation programs for those with physical disabilities.

National Organization on Disability (NOD) offers a variety of services centered on advancing opportunities for those living with physical disabilities.

The American Association of People with Disabilities is an advocacy group championing the rights and opportunities, economic growth, independent living and political awareness for people with physical disabilities

Tools/Resources To Help Students With Physical Disabilities

FrogPad provides a single-handed touch-typing keyboard.

Mounting Systems allows students to mount their technology or other study devices to specific places.

PageFlip is designed for students who need assistance with fine motor skills, providing hands-free page turning for books, magazines, and other reading materials.

Rock Switch-adapted Joystick is a device designed to provide an alternative for students who seek minimal hand movement while computing.

Dragon Voice Recognition helps students with accessibility issues, putting their voice to work to complete computing work easily.

eSight is a wearable high-speed camera that captures anything the user is looking at and sends it back in high-definition enhanced LED, enabling users with sight disabilities.

Best Tips For Succeeding In College With Physical Disabilities

Be prepared. Succeeding in college begins with preparation. Research colleges thoroughly, and choose one that supports students with physical disabilities.

Know your rights. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the American with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAC) provide reasonable accommodations and protections for college students with physical disabilities.

disability student guide

Familiarize yourself with the campus and special services. Identify all handicap accessible entrances, restrooms, elevators and parking spaces. Connect with the disability services department where an advisor can make you aware of any accommodations you may be allowed to offset limitations in motor functioning.

Utilize assistive technologies. College students are typically given access to assistive technologies including: tape recorders, adaptive keyboards, mouthsticks, headwands, and voice recognition software.

Advocate for yourself with faculty members. Bring up any challenges you may have with instructors and make any necessary arrangements you need to fully participate at school. Talk to instructors about any issues you have with a seating or workstation placement.

Speech Disorders

Speech disorders affect a person’s ability to produce correct speech sounds that create words, and allow them to communicate with other people. They are not the same as language disorders, which make it more difficult for people to learn words or understand what others are saying to them. The most common types of speech disorders include stuttering, apraxia and dysarthia. There are many causes of speech disorders, including muscles weaknesses, brain injuries, degenerative diseases, autism and hearing loss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it has been estimated that almost 8% of college age students have some form of a communication disorder.

Trustworthy Sources To Learn More About Speech Disorders

The Stuttering Foundation offers free online resources, services and support to individuals who stutter and their families.

Center for Hearing and Communication offers a variety of services, including the latest information on speech technology.

Center for Speech and Language Disorders provides therapeutic solutions for families, professionals and students, in addition to a list of resources.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) offers publications, advocacy and educational resources to families and individuals with speech related disabilities.

The American Institute for Stuttering (AIS) is a non-profit organization that offers state-of-the-art treatment to people who stutter, and support to their families.

Tools/Resources To Help Students With Speech Disorders

Dragon Anywhere by Nuance is an app that allows users to convert their speech into text for use with social media, emails, and college assignments. Dragon’s dictionary can also be customized to include whatever words the user needs.

MyVoice Rocket Apps builds apps for individuals who need communication assistance and are highly customizable, including the TalkRocket Go text-to-speech app with a college life downloadable supplement to help users communicate both inside and outside the classroom.

Read Aloud is a text-to-speech Firefox browser extension that allows users to queue multiple text inputs and even multitask while the audio continually plays.

CoolSpeech converts digital text into spoken text that can be imported.

Speech Trainer 3D is an app that helps students practice sounds via consonants and vowels to improve speech delivery.

TextSpeak Mini Wireless Talking Keyboard offer a variety of talking keyboards that immediately convert typed text into speech.

Best Tips For Succeeding In College With Speech Disorders

Student Disability Services are available on virtually every college campus. This department can help with federal mandated accommodations including determining if you can complete oral requirements for your classes in a written way or through other alternatives. They may even be able to equip you with Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) tools such as laptops with voice synthesizing or more traditional AAC boards.

On campus speech and hearing clinics typically offer a wide array of speech therapy services, including support groups that allow students to form relationships with other students that share similar speech difficulties.

Visual Impairments

Visual impairment, also known as vision impairment or vision loss, is a decreased ability to see to a degree that causes problems not fixable by usual means, such as glasses. Visual impairment can cause difficulties with normal daily activities such as reading and walking without adaptive training and equipment. The most common causes of visual impairment are uncorrected refractive errors, cataracts and glaucoma. The National Federation for the Blind estimates that in 2015 over 15 million adults reported a visual impairment, with 7% of cases occurring in individuals aged 15-44.

Trustworthy Sources To Learn More About Visual Impairments

American Council of the Blind works to further opportunities and quality of life for those with visual impairments, and offers a wide spectrum of services and educational initiatives.

American Foundation for the Blind is a non-profit organization that offers a variety of programs and services to assist those with visual impairments, including a number of publications on the topic.

FamilyConnect is an organization devoted to providing resources and support for parents of children with visual impairments, including those aspiring to undertake postsecondary education.

Lighthouse International has a mission of fighting vision loss through prevention and treatment initiatives, while educating the public about low vision and blindness.

National Federation of the Blind is the largest organization representing those with visual impairments in America, and operates both on the national level and through local chapters in every state.

Tools/Resources To Help Students With Visual Impairments

Audible provides audio books, radio programs and audio versions of popular materials accessible via computer, smartphone, tablet or other audio players.

Big Keys Keyboard is a keyboard featuring keys four times larger than the average piece of hardware.

ClassMate Reader is a device that reads digital audio files and books, with further embedded study tools.

Talking Checkbook is technology that helps students manage their funds and banking more easily via an audio platform.

Best Tips For Succeeding In College With Visual Impairments

Understand your study style. Take time to think how you work best – try breaking down projects into manageable steps, develop a plan for taking notes, look into assistive technology and contact your professors as soon as possible to find out what resources might be available.

Simulate independent living. Whether its doing laundry for the first time or learning how to manage money, rather than learning these parts of college life while cramming for exams, practice some of these skills while still in high school.

Think about logistics. With the additional components of everyday life that college brings, plan ahead and consider the best paths to classrooms and creating a schedule that allows time to get from point A to point B.

Speak up for yourself. Although colleges have advanced greatly in providing safe and supportive environments for students with disabilities, develop your confidence to let others around you know if your needs are not being met.

Read up about your rights. Students with disabilities are protected under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Review this document to understand the responsibilities a college has to all students with disabilities.

Understanding Your Legal Rights

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, mandate equal access to postsecondary institutions for students with disabilities. This includes public universities, vocational schools, community colleges and private institutions. All private and public colleges run by nonreligious entities must obey the laws set forth by the ADA. If a school also receives federal financial assistance or allows its students to receive federal financial aid, it must also adhere to Section 504. While schools run by religious entities are not covered by the ADA, if they or their students receive any federal money whatsoever, they must comply with Section 504.

Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states, “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 7(20), shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from participating in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance …” (29 U.S.C. Section 794(a)). Section 504 goes on to explicitly state that this applies to “a college, university, or other postsecondary institution, or public system of higher education”. Essentially, if an agency, institution, or entity accepts federal financial assistance, or accepts students who receive federal financial aid, it is prohibited from discriminating against any person based on their disability. Section 7(20) of Section 504 defines “disability” in the same manner as in the ADA, specifically stating “any person who has a disability as defined in Section 3 of the Americans with Disability Act of 19890”. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), a component of the U.S. Department of Education, is responsible for much of the enforcement of Section 504 in educational institutions.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA is a law, passed in 1990 and amended in 2008, that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the public sphere (42 U.S.C. Section 12101, et. seq.). This includes schools, places of employment (that employ more than 15 individuals), public transportation, and anywhere else that is open to the public, even if it is a privately owned location. All locations that the public can visit need to be accessible to individuals with disabilities and accommodations need to be given when necessary. Both Title II (Pubic Services) and Title III (Public Accommodations and Services Operated by Private Entities) of the ADA prohibit discrimination based on a disability (42 U.S.C. 12132, 12182(a)). Anyone with a disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities is covered by the ADA. The OCR is also responsible for the enforcement of Title II of the ADA, while the Department of Justice (DOJ) is responsible for enforcement of Title III.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

IDEA is a law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the United States, and ensures special education and related services to those children (20 U.S.C. Section 1400, et. seq.). Originally, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142), now known as IDEA, was a landmark civil rights measure signed into law in 1975. Congress reauthorized the IDEA in 2004, and most recently amended the IDEA through Public Law 114-95, the Every Student Succeeds Act, in December 2015. The IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 8 million (as of school year 2019-2020) eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities. Infants and toddlers, birth through age 2, with disabilities and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA Part C. Children and youth ages 3 through 21 receive special education and related serviced under IDEA Part B.

Assistive Technology Act (Tech Act)

The Assistive Technology Act was first passed by Congress and signed by President Reagan as the Technology-Related Assistance Act of 1988. It is often called the Tech Act for short and has been reauthorized in 1994, 1998, and 2004 (29 U.S.C. Section 2202). The Tech Act is intended to promote people’s awareness of, and access to, assistive technology (AT) devices and services. The Act seeks to provide AT to persons with disabilities, so they can more fully participate in education, employment, and daily activities on a level playing field with those other members of their communities. The Act covers people with disabilities of all ages, all disabilities, in all environments – early intervention, K-12, post-secondary, vocational rehabilitation, community living, and aging services. Under the law, each U.S. state and territory receives a grant to fund as Assistive Technology Act Project (ATAP). These projects provide services to persons with disabilities for their entire life span, as well as to their families or guardians, service providers and agencies and other entities that are involved in providing services such as education and employment to persons with disabilities.

Common Academic Adjustments For Students With Disabilities

Section 504 and Title II of the ADA protect elementary, secondary, and post-secondary students from discrimination. Nevertheless, several of the requirements that apply through high school are different from the requirements that apply beyond high school. For example, Section 504 requires a school district to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to each child with a disability in the district’s jurisdiction. However, unlike your high school, your postsecondary school is not required to provide a FAPE. Rather, your postsecondary school is only required to provide appropriate academic adjustments as necessary to ensure that it does not discriminate on the basis of a disability. In addition, if your postsecondary school provides housing to nondisabled students, it must provide comparable, convenient, and accessible housing to students with disabilities at the same cost.

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The appropriate academic adjustment must be determined based on your disability and individual needs. Academic adjustments may include auxiliary aids and services, as well as modifications to academic requirements as necessary to ensure equal educational opportunity. Examples of adjustments are: arranging for priority registration; reducing a course load; substituting one course for another; providing note takers; recording devices; sign language interpreters; extended time for testing; and, if telephones are provided in dorm rooms, a TTY in your dorm room; and equipping school computers with screen-reading, voice recognition, or other adaptive software or hardware.

Although disclosure of a disability is always voluntary, if you want the school to provide an academic adjustment, you must identify yourself as having a disability. Unlike your school district, your postsecondary school is not required to identify you as having a disability or to assess your needs. Similarly, you should let the school know about your disability if you want to ensure that you are assigned to accessible facilities. Your postsecondary school may require you to follow reasonable procedures to request an academic adjustment. Institutions may set their own requirements and procedures for documentation of your disability so long as they are reasonable and comply with Section 504 and Title II. You are responsible for knowing and following these procedures to support your request for an academic adjustment.

Key to Success for Any Student with a Disability: Attitude, Self-Advocacy and Preparation

The attitude and self-advocacy skills of students with disabilities may be two of the most important factors in determining their success or failure in postsecondary education. Students with disabilities also need to be prepared to work collaboratively with the institution’s disability coordinator to enable them to have an equal opportunity to participate in an institution’s programs and activities. To ensure that students with disabilities have the best opportunity to succeed they should always keep in mind the keys to college success:

  • Understand their disabilities. Students with disabilities need to know the functional limitations that result from their disabilities and understand their strengths and weaknesses. They should be able to explain their disabilities to an institution’s disability coordinators or appropriate staff.
  • Accept responsibility for your own success. All students, including those with disabilities, must take primary responsibility for their success or failure in postsecondary education. Students with disabilities, in particular, are moving from a system where parents and school staff usually advocated on their behalf to a system where they will be expected to advocate for themselves.
  • Take an appropriate preparatory curriculum. Because all students will be expected to meet an institution’s essential standards, students with disabilities need to take a high school curriculum that will prepare them to meet those standards.
  • Learn time management skills. Although a primary role of high school educators is to provide monitoring, direction and guidance to their students; as they approach the end of their high school career students themselves need to prepare and learn to act independently and to manage their own time with little to no supervision.
  • Acquire computer skills. Because postsecondary students use computers extensively to complete a multitude of tasks, from registering for classes to accessing course material and obtaining grades, it is essential that students learn to use computers if they are to be prepared for postsecondary education. Assistive technology can help certain students with disabilities use computers and access information.
  • Consider supplemental postsecondary education preparatory programs. A variety of institutions of postsecondary education have summer programs in which students can participate while they are still in high school, or after graduation, to ease their transition to postsecondary education. These programs often expose students to experiences that they are likely to encounter in postsecondary education, such as living in dorms, relating to other students and eating in dining halls.
  • Research postsecondary education programs. Students with disabilities may select any program for which they are qualified but should review carefully documentation standards and program requirements for their program or institution of interest. For example, students should pay close attention to an institution’s program requirements, such as language or math, to avoid making a large financial and time commitment only to realize several years into a program that they cannot, even with academic adjustments, meet an essential requirement for program completion.
  • Get involved on campus. To help students avoid the isolation that can occur away from home during the first year of postsecondary education, students should be encouraged to live on campus and to become involved in campus activities. Attendance at orientation programs for freshmen is a good first step in discovering ways to get involved in the postsecondary education environment.

We hope this resource guide has been helpful. If you have any questions please always feel to email us at [email protected].

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